Cutter Ulhorn is a Practical English for Success Volunteer serving in a pueblo in La Guajira, Colombia.
Go to school.
Greet the portero.
Greet the seños.
Greet your counterpart.
Unlock the classroom door.
Start your class.
Teach a dynamic activity. In the course of your lessons, you will be asked to sing Despacito. You will be asked to flex your muscles. You will be asked to bailar bajito with a woman made of air, touching your lips to the underside of your wrist as if to a soft and waiting cheek. Do only one of these things.
Shoo dogs away from chicken carcasses in backyard.
Walk by mirror.
Wonder what people thought of themselves before mirrors.
Walk through the town.
Walk to porches of people in your town.
Attempt humor in broken Spanish.
Tense as their voices grow more pained, as they speak of incidents past with regret and a vocabulary too rich for you.
Play with children.
Look at children and wonder if you were once like them. Did you smile as much as they do?
Think back to kids at school.
Wonder when you begin to see the smiles leave their faces. Which class frowns the most. Think on this.
Pluck níspero from your neighbor’s tree
Find a tree under which to sit.
Walk to the edge of your town.
Walk into the distant twilight of the Sierra Nevadas and don’t look back. Dream. Dream while walking. As trucks thunder past laden with sugar cane and fifty gallon drums of churro, walk ahead into waking daydreams of futures untold. Before you loom tomorrows, possible tomorrows filled with spouses and children and careers. Find yourself immersed in problems forty years from now, balancing accounts not yet opened, worrying about lives not yet lived. See the birth of your first child — once, twice, three times. Wonder if you will make a good parent. Think of your own parents, all that they did, all that they didn’t do. Vow to never be like them. Vow to be exactly like them. Walk down the aisle and look to your left at the face under the veil. Do not look at the face under the veil. Wonder if you are good enough through a thousand job interviews, through hundreds of failed business ventures. Spend a thousand nights sleepless over problems you cannot see. Roll over. Is there someone next to you? See no one. Ask for forgiveness for the things you have not done, for the things you know that you will do. Think of wrinkles and expanding waistlines, think of losing old friends and making new ones, fruitless cycles of regret, glimmers of hope. Think of failure. Think of success. Think of a time not yet distant where Colombia will be just another memory, and the edges of it will be just as hazy as your six year old birthday party, and all the sights and sounds and color will muddle into a mass, and your memory will fail you at parties as you think of that specific time, which could have been many times, which could have been all the time, which will be forever after that one time you were in Colombia. Do not cry. Hope that this will not happen. Hope that the beauty is always piercing, that every moment of your life is as full and rich as the ones you now live, now cling to moment by moment, gasping at something richer than air: the velvet tumult of experience. Die. Die once, twice, three times. Die in your sleep. Die in front of your family. Die alone. Think of your last thoughts, and know that this will be one of them, walking through the halls of your future life, planning the myriad stops towards an end that is sure to come, the stations of your own personal cross. How heavy will it be? Marvel at opportunity, at gifts that don’t come in boxes but come in years, that come in eating arepas at midnight, chasing sapos in the rain, climbing trees at the banks of the river, smiling, smiling for nothing, smiling through tears, smiling when your kids greet you for the first time in English. Want to be there. Want to be nowhere else but there, in that moment, those moments that have come to mean everything to you, the mundane and the boring exploding before you as profound, as necessary, like breathing, like waking up after a deep and restful sleep.
Look at the asphalt running into the distance.
Look at the mountains.
Walk back to town.
Repeat as needed.